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Judging the Condition of Your Films

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May 11, 2011 by admin

Often times our clients tells that their films have been sitting in a closet somewhere for decades without having been touched. The home movie films, 8mm or 16mm, may have been from a family collection put together by a now long since deceased mom or pops. It is only natural to wonder about the condition of your 8mm home movie films and if they can be duplicated into the digital domain. More than likely they are.

You can do a quick evaluation of your home movie films yourself. Open a reel and pull out enough leader to expose the film. Then pull off some more to let maybe a foot or so of film hang freely from the reel. Look for bowing or twisting. If the film hangs freely then guess what. Your film has passed the first important test. If it contorts wildly it will still duplicate though as the film passes through the film gate its distance to the focal plane will be constantly changing with the result that the focus will suffer a little in varying degrees.

Can you detect the smell of vinegar. If so then your movie films have begun a non-reversible chemical decomposition. They may still be projectable but if so, not for long.

When you bend the movie film does it easily crease or break? This is not good. Good film should only accept a crease if you try to fold it like paper and apply pressure to the crease. Even with that it should not break.

Inspect for sprocket damage or tears in the movie film. When you lightly pass your fingers over the film you should feel no ridges. In the opening footage of the movie reel it is more likely that you will see this but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the movie reel is that way. About the only way the consumer can go beyond this without some movie film editing equipment is to just hold up the reel to the light and look through it. If there is no light passing through whatsoever you have passed another important test. If you see some light passing through it may still be okay. Just look for irregularities. Irregularities might be good splices so don’t get too worried. Localized problematic irregularities include torn film at the periphery, sprocket damage, pockets of lint. Irregularities that are somewhat uniform through the reel might be from warped film caused by the emulsion having shrunk. The film base generally does not shrink so when the emulsion shrinks it causes the movie film to bow and warp. These anomalies will cause a constantly changing focus as the film is projected. It’s not a lot but just enough to notice.

When we check your movie films in for conversion and transfer to DVD we will do these same simple tests. If we believe a given reel is questionable we will manually run through the entire reel using editing equipment to find and repair individual film irregularities that would hinder good projection such as a weak splice or torn film.

Once in a great while we will encounter film that was projected but not rewound or was wound backwards with the emulsion facing inward. We can correct these conditions for a nominal fee.


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